US space agency will finally launch a ‘flying saucer’ into Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday to test technology that could be used to land on Mars.
The tests were postponed earlier due to several weather delays.
Addressing a press brief from Kauai, Ian Clark of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, “Landing on Mars is an extremely challenging thing to do. If you are going to cast your eyes on the prize of landing people on Mars, you’re going to need extremely large drag devices to slow those vehicles down.”
Clark, who is the principal investigator for NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) program, has developed two new devices that would facilitate entry of large spacecrafts into the atmosphere of Mars.
The two devices include, a six-meter (20-foot) inflatable doughnut ‘Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SAID-R), and a supersonic parachute.
SAID-R encircles the saucer-shaped craft. Once deployed, the device increases the diameter of the craft and creates enough drag – theoretically – to slow the vehicle from Mach 3.8 to Mach 2.7.
The other device, supersonic parachute, is made of Kevlar. It’s covered in a special coating designed to withstand temperatures up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
The NASA scientists will test both devices- the disc-shaped vehicle and a giant parachute-off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai on Saturday.
According to NASA, testing the new technologies presents enormous logistical challenges. Engineers will check things like whether the craft is easily placed in the upper stratosphere, where conditions are akin to those of the Martian atmosphere.
NASA says the test is being conducted in the stratosphere as conditions there are similar to that of Mars.